Photographs and videos of Kayla Grace Chesser, smiling and radiant, dominated a Mendocino County courtroom Wednesday morning during an emotional sentencing hearing for her killer.
But Terrell Marshall showed no emotion and did not face his victim’s family or friends.
Marshall, 46, was sentenced to 50-years-to-life for killing Chesser, 27, during a rape on Halloween 2014. In June, Marshall, who was a convicted sex offender at the time of the killing, pleaded no contest to the crime and admitted to having a prior strike. He will serve at least 50 years of the sentence, in accordance with his plea agreement.
“You deserve every day, every minute of this sentence,” Mendocino County Superior Court Judge David Nelson said while handing down the sentence at the end of the hearing.
During the hearing, Chesser’s mother, Marri Krch, likened Marshall to a tumor that needed to be cut out of society.
“There will never be a punishment enough for this crime,” she said. “I’ll never recover.”
“It’s unbearable,” said Kayla’s father, David Chesser, struggling to speak. “I miss her terribly.” The wooden box in which he keeps his daughther’s ashes sat on a nearby table as he spoke.
Marshall’s defense attorney, Justin Petersen, defended Marshall against allegations in a probation report that he lacked remorse. Marshall, who is married and has two young daughters, is not a one-dimensional cartoon villain who is all bad, he said. Marshall had “a great deal of remorse,” Petersen said.
But Prosecutor Scott McMenomey disagreed, calling Marshall a “dangerous criminal and a sociopath.”
“He is one-dimensional,” McMenomey said.
Chesser was raped and strangled to death at the Willits home of a friend with whom she had been partying on Halloween. The friend is related to Marshall. Chesser’s friends left her alone at the house after she became too intoxicated to continue their festivities at the events lodge in the Brooktrails subdivision, according to testimony at Marshall’s preliminary hearing last year.
More than 50 people attended Wednesday’s hearing, many wearing T-shirts and buttons bearing Chesser’s likeness. They cried as family and friends displayed poster-sized images and projected photos of her onto a large television screen. Her father played a video of the young woman dancing.
Chesser belonged to a belly dance troupe, taught dance and planned to purchase her own dance studio.
Chesser’s fiancé, Nicholas Tow, was among those who spoke during the hearing. Tow did not attend the Halloween party with Chesser that night. Wednesday, he angrily blasted Marshall.
“My love was strangled, he said. “She was used for a few minutes of pleasure.”
In a poem he read, he compared Chesser to an angel whose spirit will live on.
Additionally, Chesser’s name will grace a scholarship fund for dancers set up by the family at Mendocino College.
Krch urged her daughter’s friends to keep her memory alive.
“Let’s never let her spirit die,” she said.
After the hearing, Krch was ready to leave the case — and Mitchell — behind.
“We’re ready to close this chapter of our lives,” she said. “We’re done with him. That tumor has been cut out of the general public.”